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Special teams key for Ironton, Pirates

Offense? Defense? Which side of the ball will decide the Ironton Fighting Tigers vs.

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Offense? Defense? Which side of the ball will decide the Ironton Fighting Tigers vs. Wheelersburg Pirates blockbuster season opener?

How about neither?

In the last two meetings between the two teams, special teams have proved to be the difference.

Last season Ironton won 10-3 as Tommy Lutz kicked a field goal and Josh Harmon returned a punt for the the game’s only touchdown. The Pirates were held to a single field goal.

Two years ago it was the opening kickoff return by Luke Emnett 42 yards to the Ironton 41 that helped set up a 33-yard field goal by Josh Tilley.

A short punt gave the ball to the Pirates deep in Ironton territory the second half and allowed them to score a touchdown en route to a 10-7 win.

"Special teams are always an important part of the game, but they can mean even more in a close game and in a game this early in the season," Ironton coach Bob Lutz said.

Tommy Lutz is back to handle the Ironton placements and punter Josh Sands also returns. The Pirates will look to Cody Piguet to do all the kicking.

"We feel pretty good about our kickers, but kick coverage is the biggest issue. We don’t know how well we’ll get down the field," coach Lutz said.

Of course, the game will feature more than just the kicking game. Ironton’s offense will feature a multitude of running backs led by last year’s top two rushers Tyler Scior and Maurice Murphy. Two-year starter Drew Mains is back at quarterback and he has leading receiver Chris Frazer back for his senior year.

Wheelersburg goes with 6-foot-7 quarterback Aaron Burleson and leading rusher Billy Dever. The halfbacks are Jared Chamberlin and Anthony Perkins with Dustin Winebrenner the split end.

The offensive line will rely on 6-6- 318-pound Mike Smith, Ryan Hickman (6-4, 220), Boyd Bailey (6-1, 225), and center Nate Weaver 6-5, 237.

"They’ve got a lot of size and their skilled players are pretty good. They’ve got some speed and quickness. They’ll be one of the best teams we play this year," coach Lutz said.

Both teams finished last season with a disappointing loss. Ironton fell 10-7 in the regional finals while Wheelersburg lost to Minford 28-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

Traditional Tri-State powers, the season series is 8-3 in favor of Ironton. The Fighting Tigers are 3-1 at home and 3-2 at Wheelersburg. There was one game played on a neutral field with Ironton winning 41-8 in 1995 at Portsmouth in the Division IV playoffs.